While voters will have an indication of how states are inclined, the official winner of the 2020 presidential election will not be announced on Tuesday evening or even early Wednesday morning, as was the case in 2016.
When polling stations closed on Tuesday night, officials in three contested states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, announced that they would not announce an election winner on election night. Pennsylvania did not expect results until a possible Friday, and in Michigan and Wisconsin the final results would be available on Wednesday at the earliest.
Taking into account a total of 46 votes from the electoral college, the race cannot be won without these three states unless either former Vice President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump has the 270 votes needed to win. Even in states where one or the other candidate is called, rules that allow the leaking of ballot papers and postal ballots after election day mean that the official winner may not be announced for days.
The main reason for the delay in announcing the results is the influx of postal votes and postal ballot papers. In Pennsylvania, which has 20 votes on the electoral college, the state did not begin processing postal ballots until Tuesday morning. More than 2.5 million people in Pennsylvania cast their votes by mail, according to the U.S. Elections Project, representing just under a quarter of the state’s total registered voters.
“Let us be patient while all these votes are counted. That is what the law requires, and that is what we will do in Pennsylvania,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a video message on Twitter.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told voters on Tuesday night that she expects the votes to be counted within 24 hours. She attributed the updated schedule to the efficiency of the absentee ballot counting process and applauded the millions of voters who cast their votes, a coalition she called “Team Democracy. But she also urged people to be patient and honor the democratic process by giving officials time to ensure that every vote is counted.
In Milwaukee County, results are not expected until 4 or 5 a.m. on Wednesday, according to Julietta Henry, director of the Milwaukee County Board of Elections, as she announced. Since Milwaukee is the largest county in the state, the votes in Milwaukee have the potential to influence who wins the state, and therefore a winner cannot be determined without counting his or her ballots.
In addition to the complications of choosing a winner on election night, Georgia may not count enough votes to name the state for Biden or Trump. When Fulton County officials stopped counting ballots during the night, only 49 percent of the votes had been counted, according to the CBS. The “most consistent county” in the state in terms of voter numbers, CBS noted that Georgia cannot just about declare a winner, although it seemed to reject Trump.
Even states where one candidate or another is called have warned against taking the unofficial results as the final outcome, and in some tight races, the small margin could lead to legal battles and further delay the official announcement of a winner.